Did Putin Fire Black Sea Commander After Massive Losses? What We Know

In the wake of a series of recent losses in and around the Russian-occupied Crimean Peninsula, several unconfirmed news reports indicate that Russia has shaken up its leadership by appointing a new commander for its Black Sea Fleet.

The Russian state-owned news agency Ria Novosti reported Wednesday that members of the Black Sea Fleet's military council were presented with the new commander, Vice-Admiral Viktor Sokolov, in the Crimean port city of Sevastopol, citing unnamed sources within the fleet.

If true, Sokolov would replace the current commander, Igor Osipov. An anonymous source told Ria Novosti that the appointment order came from the "commander-in-chief," referencing Russian President Vladimir Putin, and that there was no public event for the presentation.

Reuters, The Moscow Times and several other news outlets have also reported the switch, citing the Ria Novosti report. But Russian media outlet RBC reported that a Black Sea Fleet spokesperson denied the new appointment, describing it as "gossip," according to The Moscow Times. Newsweek was not able to locate the original RBC report or independently verify the switch. Russia's Defense Ministry and the Kremlin were contacted for confirmation and comment.

Putin Reportedly Replaces Commander
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during the opening ceremony of the International Military Technical Forum Army 2022 on August 15, 2022, in Kubinka, outside of Moscow, Russia. In the wake of a series of recent losses in and around the Russian-occupied Crimean peninsula, several unconfirmed news reports indicate that Putin has appointed a new commander for Russia's Black Sea Fleet. Contributor/Getty Images

While the news of the new appointment remains unconfirmed, several of Russia's recent losses in Crimea, which is on the northern coast of the Black Sea, have attracted widespread attention amid the ongoing war in Ukraine. On Tuesday, videos showing the aftermath of a series of explosions at an ammunition depot in the Dzhankoi district of Crimea circulated on social media.

Russia's Defense Ministry attributed the blasts to "sabotage," while the U.K.'s Defense Ministry said in an update Tuesday that losses in the Black Sea show that Russia is struggling to maintain control of it.

The ammunition depot blasts came the week after a Russian airbase in Crimea was rocked with a series of explosions that Russia's Defense Ministry attributed to detonated aviation ammunition.

In an August 11 video viewed more than 2 million times on Twitter, Ukraine's Defense Ministry appeared to mock Russia's explanation for the explosions at the Saki base.

"Unless they want an unpleasantly hot summer break, we advise our valued Russian guests not to visit Ukrainian Crimea," the ministry wrote in the video's caption.

In the wake of the explosions, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in an address that the Russia-Ukraine War must end with Crimea's "liberation" from Russia. The New York Times reported on August 9 that an unnamed Ukrainian military official said Ukraine was responsible for the blasts, though Newsweek was not able to independently verify the report.

Russia has also seen some setbacks in the Black Sea. In April, Ukraine said it struck and sank Russia's Moskva warship from its Black Sea Fleet—worth an estimated $750 million, though Russia said that it was an onboard fire that led to the cruiser's demise.

In June, Russian troops withdrew from Ukraine's Snake Island in the Black Sea. Ukraine said that it drove Russian forces from the island, but Moscow said that it withdrew as a "gesture of goodwill."